Around the holidays here in Norway, members of the staff will be sharing their stories and thoughts from their work at the EITI Secretariat. Here is Policy Adviser Dyveke Rogan, who is on holiday in Burma.
Greetings from Rangoon!
Rangoon is glowing, literally. As I step on to Burmese ground for the first time I find myself gasping at the mountain of gold that envelops the Shwedagon Paya. My guide tells me that there is more gold covering this ancient Buddhist pagoda than in all the vaults of the Bank of England. I am inclined to believe him, not to mention the diamonds, rubies, emeralds and jade dotting the sides.
Burma is rich in other resources too. You can hardly travel Burma without crossing the Chinese trans-Burma pipeline. I learn that once operational in 2013, it will transport some 22 million tons of oil and 12 billion cubic meters of gas annually from the Shwe field, one of the largest proven gas reserves in South-East Asia. This 2800 km dual oil and gas pipeline alone will generate about one billion USD in revenues annually over the next three decades. Adding numerous other resource projects, there is clearly a potential for economic growth and development.
Turning my back to the pagoda, it looks however rather dark. Infrastructure is poor and hours of power cuts are part of everyday life. Burma’s many ethnic minorities are fighting to get their share of the country’s resources. People on the street are not seeing the benefits from these resources.
But people say that something is changing in Burma. Media is reporting that press freedom has improved. Before leaving the office last week, I read that U Win Tun, Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry, wants to use the revenues earned from the exploitation of Burma’s natural resources for developing the economy. ‘We have to account for the money, particularly the revenue from sale of gas’, he said.
The Lady agrees. In a recent interview with Burmese press, Aung San Suu Kyi said that even if one cannot change the deals that have been made, it is still possible to ensure that natural resources are used for the development of the country. ‘It is because the public does not know what is happening to the revenues that we can’t do anything about using them more effectively, for the country in general. There should be transparency and accountability to make sure that whatever deals there are, that they are to be to the profit, the benefit of the people’, she said.
Some of the people I’ve met seem to be cautiously optimistic. Burmese people have donated gold to the Shwedagon Paya for centuries. This practice continues today, although mostly in other commodities than gold. With the recent month’s hints of a Burmese spring in mind, I leave the shiny pagoda with the hope that the government will soon donate some of the countries’ riches to its citizens too.